I realize the title of this blog runs across the grain of what many say about how we are to relate to the lost. There’s a misconception of Jesus that says he made friends of sinners. It sounds cool. But we need to be clear what we mean when we say, “Jesus was a friend of sinners.”
Jesus was, of course, friendly to sinners. He was so friendly to sinners that his enemies called him “a friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). This was not a label that Jesus rejected nor was it a title that he wore with honor.
To the self-righteous, this was a label to be rejected. No self-righteous religious person wants to be labeled a friend of sinners. Because the world labels us as self-righteous, many Christians have reacted to that by intentionally wearing the label “friend of sinners” as a title of honor.
Jesus didn’t do that either. Even though he was friendly to sinners, he said to his followers, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Sinners are sinners because they don’t do what Jesus commands, and saints are saints because they do what Jesus commands. That is the dividing line between sinner and saint, and it is a line that Jesus did not cross in making friends.
That does not mean Jesus wasn’t friendly to everyone. What you think I just wrote may not be what I meant. Modern culture has trivialized friendship. In modern culture, saying someone is friendly is like saying they are outgoing and greet everyone with a handshake and a “Howdy partner”. That’s not what I mean. I mean Jesus treated people as though they were friends, but he knew the difference between being friendly and developing friendships.
I am trying to be as clear as possible because I believe the church is dangerously close to blurring the line between sinner and saint by crossing the line of friendship. I also know that my last statement contradicts the pluralistic worldview that blurs lines and condemns Christians like me who still believe there is an essential difference between sinners and saints.
Jesus was clear about who his friends were. They were the ones who followed God with him. If we see friendship as Jesus saw it, we would develop our friendships among those who obey what He commands and treat all others as we treat our friends.
Dr. Michael Peters is the lead pastor of Christ the King: TheCellChurch.com. He is married to Linda, and they have two children and seven grandchildren. Dr. Peters graduated from Covenant Seminary with an MA and obtained a PhD in historical theology from Saint Louis University. He has written several books. His most recent is titled Cell Vision. It’s about organic discipleship and how to develop supporters into disciple makers. He taught critical thinking and Biblical worldview at Missouri Baptist University. His favorite course textbook was Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom. His favorite philosopher is Nietzsche because postmodern people are just catching up with premodern Nietzsche. And his favorite Christian writer is G.K. Chesterton because he understood the difference between a poet and theologian. “The poet,” he wrote, “only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the theologian who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”